December 8, 2020
The Evolution of eBOL is Automation
Ask supply chain practitioners their viewpoint on the scope of an electronic bill of lading (eBOL) solution and you elicit thoughts ranging from digital document management to signature capture, or even the notion of “going paperless.” This is a problem. Our industry views eBOL too narrowly. eBOL solutions can mean much more to an organization traveling the path of digital transformation. In this blog, we explore what an expanded scope looks like in the eBOL space. Or as we like to say, automated Bill of Lading (aBOL).
Expand the Use Case
When prospects and practitioners discuss eBOL, they often focus on the outputs. Digital bills of lading, electronic signature capture, and drivers without paper. The problem with this narrow focus is that it ignores the lion’s share of the work necessary to make digital bills of lading a reality, and through this restrictive viewpoint, the majority of the benefit. The workflow is much larger when one considers document preparation, ingestion, identification, sortation, and workflow automation. Combine this with the need to digitize, coordinate, and automate a driver’s entire interaction with a facility, from arrival to departure, and we have something more significant for an operation to sink its teeth into. With the door to this expanded use case open, we can now step through to a fully digital, contactless, and automated workflows that drive significantly more value opportunities.
The most obvious benefit of digitizing and automating this more comprehensive workflow is that unnecessary physical interaction between drivers and facility is eliminated. While safety benefits cannot be understated during a pandemic, there is additional veiled value. When interactions between drivers and facility staff are digitized and automated, it makes them more clinical. Borderline austere. Consider the time lost each day when a shipping/receiving clerk makes small talk with every driver to maintain etiquette? In our experience, this is more than a 20% productivity hit for these individuals. By digitizing and automating this interaction, as well as the need to print, sort, file, approve, and manage paper, the result is a more efficient and successful operation because these critical team members focus on the value-add portion of their role, not talking about the game last night.
Historically fulfillment and distribution sit separately from transportation and logistics. The warehouse is focused on fulfilling orders while transportation is focused on lowest cost reliable mode of freight transport. This creates an environment where warehouse staff wipe their hands of responsibility once a truck is loaded, a driver signs a bill of lading, and the trailer is under control of the driver. At this point, it becomes solely the responsibility of transportation or logistics to manage and track through delivery. One of the main issues with this structure is the communication impermeability it fosters. This prevents proactive response to the inevitable exception scenario in fulfillment and logistics.
This fabricated barrier is further exacerbated by the communication standards and expectations in place. The majority of data shared between these groups and their systems is through static EDI communication that has not materially changed in arguably 30 years. Order downloads (EDI 940), shipment confirmations (EDI 945), and others are sent once, to bookend large processes. This limited communication protocol creates substantial data and visibility blind spots.
Clever organizations have recognized that in a world of exceptions, real-time visibility to data across the entire supply chain is necessary to meet customer expectations. They eliminate silos between groups, systems, and share data with the enterprise.
These same organizations have recognized the unique position of an eBOL solution in the supply chain. It sits right at the juncture between inventory at rest, in a facility, and inventory in motion, on a transport mode. This position at the hand-off allows a sophisticated and visionary eBOL solution to blur the traditional lines between fulfillment and transportation. It has access to the warehouse data, the driver, the document data, QA/compliance data, and yard data.
Imagine the ability to share that data, in real-time, with every adjacent system in the supply chain, or even the customer? What manual steps could be eliminated through this seamless data exchange? How much could an organization improve its customer experience and proactively react to disruption?
An eBOL solution with a flexible API and data management module makes this a reality.
So much effort and investment has been made automating the inside of manufacturing and distribution facilities. We have AMRs, AGVs, conveyance, RPA, ASRS, autonomous forklifts and countless other household automation acronyms. Lost in this sea of investment and advancement is the yard around a facility. More specifically, the guard shack.
While operational practitioners recognize yard security is a necessity, they would love nothing more than to slash or eliminate this line item from their budget. Most have done what they can by outsourcing the labor, but the spend is still significant.
Traditionally, this role serves several main functions. First, to capture driver and trailer information coming into and leaving a facility and provide a driver with their initial set of instructions upon arrival. Second, they may operate a gate or other tool that allows ingress/egress to and from a facility. Third, they may check trailers into and out of the facility’s warehouse management system (WMS).
It begs the question – Why can’t we automate/digitize this?
Again, eBOL sits in a unique position to solve this. A self-service kiosk can handle driver and trailer information capture, as well as document ingestion and initial instruction on next steps. The thoughtful use of cameras and images can validate correct trailers and seals and support remote inspections. An eBOL solution’s API capabilities can interact with the gate controls to open/close as necessary as well as check trailers into and out of a WMS. All of this buttressed by a remote guard monitoring multiple facilities, handling exceptions and ensuring smooth operations, at a far lower cost.
How much money could each of your operations save by automating the guard shack and reducing or eliminating that labor cost?
eBOL as a Continuum
At MacGregor Partners, we view eBOL as a continuum, ranging from the paper processes and face to face interaction that has dominated the industry, to eBOL as a centerpiece of the digital yard of the future.
Don’t feel the need to race to the far end of the continuum overnight. Find a firm capable of guiding your organization through the change management. A firm that understands the challenges and can help your employees climb the stairs to digital efficiency, savings, and visibility successfully and safely in concert with all your vendors, carriers, partners, and customers. If done successfully, it opens the doors to significant value and cost savings. Reach out to explore and realize these benefits with us.Learn More